The Great British Bake Off 2021 final review – a Wonderland to behold

It may not have felt as vital or soothing as last year’s series, but this was a corking final, with a Mad Hatter’s tea party Showstopper and disasters for all the finalists

• Warning: this article contains spoilers

Was this a vintage year for The Great British Bake Off (Channel 4)? I’m not sure it will go down as an all-time great, though it was a good, reliable series. It was, however, a strong finale, with strong contestants who were, as we were often reminded, the most evenly matched in Bake Off history. Perfectionist Giuseppe, aesthete Crystelle and self-taught lockdown prodigy Chigs had all shaken the hand of Paul Hollywood twice, and were all crowned star baker twice. It was impossible to tell who was going to win.

It was also hard to root for just one of them, because they all had their charms, teased out further by the segments showing their families at home and the reasons they got into baking in the first place. I am a sucker for a backstory, and these were short, sweet and lovely. If I found Giuseppe’s cool precision a bit predictable during the bulk of the series, the beautiful message from his father wiped all that away, shining a light on where he came from and why he was so good at it. We found out that Chigs’ father died when Chigs was young, leading him to embrace life and opportunities; Crystelle’s baking seems to have given her life focus and meaning.

For a show that’s all about making the best cakes (and bread, and pastry, and biscuits, and other concoctions the judges speak of as if they’re old friends but only three Bavarian cattle farmers have ever made before), it always has that undercurrent of depth, but it is never saccharine. I still love the pairing of Matt Lucas and Noel Fielding as presenters, whether they are pretending to kiss or distracting harried contestants from the task at hand. Their humour is just odd enough to temper the cuteness, and kind enough to stick to the spirit of the show. Channel 4 has ordered three more years of Bake Off, and I hope these two stick with it.

As is often the way on cooking competitions, the finale is not really a showcase for the contestants’ best work. The pressure is too great, the stakes too high, the ideas just a touch too ambitious. What begins as a level playing field remains that way through most of the final, because nobody quite manages to excel. Crystelle’s carrot cake is wonky, Chigs’ Belgian buns look like those comedy stress balls from an 80s executive’s office, Giuseppe finds that the one thing that can derail his cool head is a cool oven, which has turned itself off because the door was left ajar. The Showstopper brief – a Mad Hatter’s tea party, showing off at least four baking disciplines – was brilliant, and as the bakers whizzed around the tent pulling off inhuman feats of pastry work at lightning speed, I felt that familiar annual pang: the realisation that I would miss them.

It might not have been as vital and soothing as last year’s lockdown-ish edition, but it still had its moments. I would have loved to have seen the remarkable Lizzie get to the final, if only to find out what she would have done with that Showstopper brief, and whether her former pet pig would have made an appearance. Still, we got a Cheshire Cat in the Leicester City colours, a competition-losing nightmare rendered in focaccia, and mushrooms that somehow evaded the double entendre treatment, but to give it to Giuseppe, the most solid and reliable baker, seemed like a fitting finish, oven upset or no. “You kids done a Bake Off,” said Noel, proudly, at the end of all the chaos.

Contributor

Rebecca Nicholson

The GuardianTramp

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